Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Missing Beatitudes

Tonight, at our midweek service, we will read the gospel lesson we didn't hear this past Sunday: Matthew 5:1-12. Instead, we heard the story of Jesus' parents presenting him in the temple because the feast of the Presentation, which takes precedence over the usual Sunday rotation, fell on a Sunday. That's the right thing to do, of course, but it's hard to begin a lectionary series on the Sermon on the Mount without beginning with the Beatitudes.

This coming Sunday, we'll hear what comes right after the Beatitudes: "You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world...Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." On the following Sunday, Jesus will explain in part what that means, when he says, "If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment...Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart...Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." I don't think we can hear those words of Jesus and make sense of them without first hearing the Beatitudes.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are those who mourn...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." That is Jesus' description of God's reign. When we see what Jesus sees and what God sees, when we see God's reign manifest on the earth, we discover that those who are poor in spirit belong in God's reign, that those who mourn shall be comforted, that those who are meek are they who inherit the earth, that those who strive for righteousness as if it were a basic necessity are they who are sated. When we are citizens of that world, that's what we see, too. And, if that's what followers of Jesus see with their hearts and minds, that's what we have to make seen with our lives, too.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If the world around you is going to see the reign of God, it must be reflected in how you live. That isn't by abrogating the law but by strengthening its demands--to the point that, just like God's reign, we cannot pursue it on our own.

Without the Beatitudes, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount can begin to sound like a guilt-inspired rant on the decline of moral society. (Social media rants on the Super Bowl halftime show, anyone?) With the Beatitudes, however, we can hear Jesus' sermon as a description of what life in God's reign is like. In God's reign, what it means to be blessed is completely reversed. If we believe that, we have a role to play in showing the same thing to the world because our lives, when guided by the Holy Spirit, reflect the truth of that reign.

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